Tuesday, July 12, 2011

four weeks in - the desert

No man's land. That is the rough translation for the name of the field I had the fine pleasure of visiting last week. Barsa field is a very large and very old field here. I snapped a few more photos, but this one captures most of the essence of the area. We happened to be in a low area of the field with sand dunes forming our horizon in every direction. The photo is from one of those dunes looking back into the low area, but the field extends much further beyond the horizon so the photo captures most of what you might see. If you were hoping for a cavalcade of flora and fauna then I would recommend against planning a trip here. However, there were camels, but their publicist did not allow photos taken of them.

There is something deeply fascinating about working in the desert. For me, it is the contrast between the seemingly endless monotony of the landscape and unforgiving environment mixed with the oases of industry that our work brings. A compressor station here, a rig there, and a pipeline into the horizon surrounded by the continuous and slowly shifting sand dunes. Being in what feels like the middle of nowhere, we can somehow bring highly specialized equipment together in a coordinated enough fashion that we actually accomplish something productive.

Perhaps I have never quite gotten over the seeming absurdity of oil and gas production. We're putting holes into the ground, miles deep at times, that are no more than a foot across by the bottom, and this is effective? This? This is a process that works? Apparently. And we do it over and over again. Sometimes, just for a moment, I marvel that this is even cost-effective at all when considering the time, resources, and specialized equipment that are required to drill just a single well. Like anything else done on a large scale (and this is large-scale when you think about activity in a global sense) it is quite interesting that the extraction of oil does not cost more than it already does. And doing all this in the desert where supply chains are stretched and water is limited only adds to the sense of absurdity.

Something else I have never quite gotten over or perhaps even figured out is when I mentally step back and ask myself "How did I end up in the middle of a Turkmen desert?" That's also part of what makes it so exciting. Being back in the field reminds me of how much fun it was when I first started and the sense of adventure that the newness always brought. Now, it's more newness and more adventure and still fun.

This area, and the other one I have seen, is littered with abandoned equipment totally unlike anything I have ever seen in this business. There were old rigs that had been laid over (either by man or nature) and left to decay into the sand. Pipes of all sorts were strewn about the landscape. Sand-filled industrial equipment half-buried by the winds was plentiful. I cannot help but wonder about the value of the metal and the availability of recycling. Everywhere else I have been, scrap metal is always worth taking in for recycling, but if there is no plant that can process the metal here, then it will just sit in the desert until it disintegrates into millions of rusty flakes. Fluids are likewise abandoned here with the absorbent sand masking how much is put onto the ground. There are signs that oil, drilling fluids, produced water, and all manner of other fluids have been put upon the ground and left to manage their own gradual dispersion.

What will the environmental legacy be? I am not sure and this is a far cry from US and European regulations on spills and disposals. The desert, for all its apparent emptiness, holds many resources and many stories.

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